How eCommerce gets done in India – some anecdotes

I recently spent a few weeks in India, and this time stayed there long enough to experience first-hand how desi ecommerce gets done. Here are some anecdotes.

FlipKart – Cash-on-Delivery and Courier Networks

The largest eCommerce companies in India don’t work like Amazon, where you pay for products upfront – in many cases, the model is ‘Cash-on-Delivery’. You order a product online, the courier company deliver the product to your door – and you get to decide then if you’d like to pay for the product. You are perfectly within your rights to refuse delivery, and if you do accept, you can pay cash, instead of whipping out your credit card.

An interesting side-effect of this approach is that the courier companies have to take on the burden of delivering packages that might not get accepted. This creates a friction between the eCommerce vendors and the courier networks, who have to deal with the logistics of packages not accepted.

This is leading to a situation where the big eCommerce companies are actually establishing a grounds-up fleet of deliverymen (and yes, they’re mostly men), to bypass the courier networks entirely. Given the low labor costs, this is a uniquely Indian solution to a logistics problem!

MakeMyTrip – Online transactions, meet Proactive phone support

While trying to make a reservation on MakeMyTrip, one of the large trip portals, my credit card didn’t go through the first time. Within minutes, someone called me on my cellphone, asking me what went wrong on the UI, and offering to help finish the transaction right then.

A US company tries to optimize customer support by automating everything, and outsourcing the most involved cases to India. Indian companies, on the other hand, are utilizing the fact that they have excellent call-center employees and infrastructure, to facilitate a higher conversion rate in their online experience.

Yatra – Hiding backend issues with creative solutions

Ostensibly, a reservation I had made on Yatra had gone through fine – when, in fact, it hadn’t – there were issues in the backend. No matter! They just generated a fake trip ID, giving me a fake sense of security. An hour later, they must’ve fixed whatever problems they had, and they emailed me a brand-new trip ID. I wonder how many people aren’t that lucky!

Yatra & SoSasta – SoUnderhanded

When you navigate the very long form to enter your travel details, at some point, you have to enter your home address. Right below that, there’s a very innocuous check-box, checked by default, to submit your details to SoSasta, a Groupon clone (now owned by Groupon).

No, not in the cross-marketing promotions area at the very end, or post-transaction – smack in the middle of the form where you’re entering your information – after the address, and above the phone number. If you’re not really carefully, you’ll definitely miss that checkbox.

If you’re interested in more such anecdotes, drop me a line! Thanks to Gurshi for help with this article.

Amit

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